More and more people are coming to the realization that the ICANN comment periods are a sham, open to manipulation by ICANN insiders and staff. The comment period for the Phase 1 Initial Report of the Review of All Rights Protection Mechanisms in All gTLDs Policy Development Process ended on May 4, 2020, eleven days ago. I have previously written about it (see my prior blog posts here, here, here, here and here). Rather than diving in and actually doing the work of analyzing the public comments, ICANN staff are actively preventing working group members from having easy access to those submissions.
Yesterday, Paul Tattersfield inquired about getting better access to the spreadsheet of the public comments. While the raw spreadsheet is available via a Google Sheet, it is very poorly formatted. Furthermore, the export options have been disabled (see the “Edit” menu), preventing downloading of the entire spreadsheet for easier analysis and reformatting on one’s own local computer. It would take only a few minutes to enable the export options (and only minutes to copy the sheet and remove hidden columns that might be “sensitive”, e.g. if the email addresses and/or IP addresses are being stored in the raw spreadsheet, before enabling the full export). ICANN has no good reason not to do this immediately.
As Mr. Tattersfield carefully explained in a followup post after staff refused to cooperate:
The output to the public comment period seems to be a single Google Spreadsheet, with 61 commentators. However I can not copy and paste anything from the spreadsheet in the public comment period, I can not export any data, I can not download a copy. I can not resize cells. I can not even read some of the longer fields. The online spreadsheet is also an incredibly inefficient use of screen real estate (please see attachment).
I would be very grateful if you could simply supply a copy of that spreadsheet to the working group list so I can locally restructure the data from the policy areas that interest me in a more efficient manner.
I don’t think this is a big ask, it will hopefully only take a few seconds to attach the file to an email for the list.
Mitch Stoltz of the EFF and Cyntia King also weighed in to support Mr. Tattersfield’s reasonable request, one that is consistent with ICANN’s Open Data Initiative. Even after these explanations, ICANN staff continue to refuse, claiming:
The point of using the Public Comment Review Tool is to present all of the data in a way that makes it more efficient for the WG to process. We have a very short timeframe for the WG to do the work so the work needs to be focused as much as possible to ensure that the timeframe can be met.
Staff are just trying to ensure that the WG can stick to a very abbreviated work plan by working as efficiently as possible.
The entire thread of messages can be read via the mailing list archive. Rather than serving the members of the working group, in a support role, ICANN staff appear to think that they are “in charge” of the work, dictating how the work should proceed over the objections of the public that they purport to serve.
Raw access to the comments is of critical importance, to allow detection of irregularities. For example, even in the horrible format that currently exists, I’ve been able to detect that:
- Hermes employees submitted 3 duplicate comments (under different names), in rows 7, 8 and 9 of the spreadsheet, which appear to be an attempt to unduly influence the outcome of the PDP by having multiple “votes”
- Susan Payne made 3 submissions (rows 33, 43 and 47) on behalf of the Intellectual Property Constituency. Clearly that is not kosher, and identical comments from a single source would need to be deduplicated (just like the Hermes submissions).
- Richard Hill (row 5) made comments that happen to be nearly identical to those of Renee Foss of Forum/NAF (row 4), often simply writing “I agree with the comment submitted by Renee Fossen on behalf of Forum“, as I previously noted in a prior blog post. This demonstrates coordination of responses to the survey.
There may be even more irregularities which would be easier to detect if the data was more easily accessible. However, an “abbreviated work plan” that is working “efficiently” would permit those anomalies and irregularities to be swept under the rug.
These irregularities, like double or triple “voting” by certain groups in favour of expansion of trademark rights, will not be detected if ICANN staff merely provides their own “summary” with “percentages in favour or against proposals” which masks the severe problems of this comment period that I’ve pointed out before. The under-representation of affected stakeholders (like ordinary domain name registrants, as opposed to the trademark lobby which has captured this working group) would be hidden if the working group simply relied on a staff summary which did not show who was behind all the comments that were submitted.
Indeed, the co-chairs and staff already used an anonymous survey (violating ICANN’s transparency requirements) in the past, to manipulate the outcome of the working group, removing proposals from the initial report that should have been considered by the public.
In the IGO PDP working group, there were similar attempts to manipulate the outcome by staff, which I detected and exposed. For example, ICANN staff “miscounted” those who provided input, and took weeks to provide any explanation. Further, the results of their non-transparent attempt to gauge “consensus” was entirely at odds with those of us who openly attempted to reach consensus via the mailing list itself (where support could be readily verified by all, e.g in the thread “Public Display of Possible Consensus“). Eventually, members of that working group were able to reach consensus on all recommendations, despite the attempts to hijack the work (although later that work was hijacked at GNSO Council by the small minority of ICANN insiders that opposed the outcome).
As was noted after the dot-com comment period by Zak Muscovitch:
Less than 24 hours after the Staff Report was published – late on a Friday in the middle of a pandemic – ICANN management announced its approval of the proposed amendment without a single revision to the originally proposed terms. The rapid approval and the failure to incorporate any modifications in response to the numerous substantive objections raised in the unprecedented public response which was nearly unanimous in its opposition to the terms proposed by ICANN management, reveals the promised consultative and deliberative process to have been a sham.
Presumably the review of public comments for the dot-com agreement by the ICANN Board also took place via an “abbreviated work plan” and was very “efficient”, given that it all took place in less than 24 hours!
It appears a similar sham process is taking place now in the RPM PDP working group, as only a cursory and superficial review of the comments is likely to take place, depriving the public and affected stakeholders of any real opportunity to change the predetermined outcome desired by ICANN insiders and staff.
Ultimately, ICANN staff are like the Wizard of Oz, saying “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”
They seek to prevent any deep analysis or review of the inputs into policymaking, which could be used to undermine their predetermined outcomes.